There's something special about this golf hole. I'm gazing at the famed 13th green at Augusta National, a cozy par 5 enveloped in cotton-candy-colored azalea blossoms. I've got a six-iron in my hand, a golf pro by my side, and a gallery of dumbstruck onlookers. After a waggle or three, I grip it and rip it. Perfect. Dead center of the... net?
Atlanta's Hartsfield International Airport may be purgatory for every other business traveler, but not for me. Not anymore. Instead of spending a recent layover hunkered over a burger, beer, or laptop, I'm taking a golf lesson. Located across from Gate B15, between Laptop Lane and Charley's Steakery, Gravity Golf features a glass-faced hitting booth that attracts incredulous gawkers as readily as a Tiger Woods tee shot. "As far as I know, there is no other airport in the world where you can take a golf lesson," says Gravity Golf founder David Lee, who opened the center in June of last year.
A former PGA Tour player and longtime instructor, Lee figured that airport golf was a good way to demonstrate in person his teaching technique, which was previously featured in a long-running infomercial and is now the subject of a book, videotapes, and clinics. More than 30,000 people pass through Hartsfield's Terminal B every day, says fellow instructor Greg Powers — and sometimes it seems as though half of them are golfers. "It's like having a place in Times Square," Powers says. "You can't imagine the cross section of golfers who come in."
There are European golfers and Latin- American golfers, Delta pilots who are golfers, and a lot of golfers who make their living in sales. Then there are hacks like me. Powers, to his credit, doesn't wince during my practice swings. Instead, he demonstrates a series of unusual drills. I swing at the ball with my feet crossed, using one arm so that I lose my balance and experience what he calls the all-important "counterfall." I also experience my first whiff in years. I can't bear to look at the crowd gathered at the window behind me. I feel as if I'm some creature on exhibit at the zoo. Look folks: a duffer!
Powers, who played on the PGA Tour for 18 years and competed in the 2002 U.S. Senior Open, is exceedingly encouraging. He offers a tip here and there, and he helps me through drills. Eventually, I find a groove. I'm hitting the sweet spot, and my swing feels effortless. "You popped that one," Powers says. "That's Tiger's swing right there."
That does it. Suddenly, I'm out on the 13th fairway. Because of the inch-and-a-half-thick safety glass, the hitting booth is almost as quiet as a golf course; the gate announcements are hardly noticeable. That explains why, after I complete my lesson, I nearly miss my flight. Airport golf may not have sand traps or tall grass, but it's not completely without hazards.
Learn more about Gravity Golf on the Web (www.gravitygolf.com).
A version of this article appeared in the April 2003 issue of Fast Company magazine.